As Executive Director of Waves For Water, Christian Troy’s job takes on many forms. In hurricane-ravaged Guerrero state, Mexico, he led about 75 people in what was essentially a human chain across a wide river. Floods had taken down a bridge, cutting off a hillside village’s access to food, water, and supplies. Along with delivering filtration systems, Christian’s job was to oversee the passing of boxes from hand to hand, a feat that looked like it belonged more to the insect world than the human. In the outermost islands of Vanuatu, after it was devastated by a category 5 cyclone, he literally swam buckets and filters to shore, lugged them up steep, muddy slopes, and brought them to the native inhabitants, many of them wounded.
But the core of his job is getting clean water to people in need. And while it is literally lifesaving, it also contains a certain abracadabra. Demonstrating how the filtration systems work to a camp of Syrian refugees in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, I watched him spill a couple ounces of brown, wretched-looking water into the filter, which transformed it into clear and fully drinkable water. He handed a glass of it to a young boy who gulped it down gleefully and gave a big thumbs up. The entire camp cheered.
Waves For Water has implemented clean water programs in 48 countries. Much of this work is enabled by partnerships with the U.S. Army, BMW, and the World Surf League. I recently caught up with Christian over a plate of fish at the Reel Inn in Malibu. He ate slowly, considered my questions carefully, and exuded a deep sense of purpose that I found to be infectious.
What excites you most about Waves For Water right now?
Well, for one that we have lasted as long as we have on the same mission: providing access to clean water to everyone who needs it. And that we have continually found new and innovative ways to stay on that mission — for me it’s been nine years plus now.
Is there a specific initiative that you’re really psyched about?
We’re always looking for ways to work smarter, be more efficient, and recruit support. We’ve recently developed a military division for veterans called the Clean Water Corps. Veterans have great and relevant skills and are suddenly available to do this work with us. In many cases they lead our disaster and emergency response efforts. So that is one thing. In addition, there’s a particular initiative where we’re working with the World Economic Forum. That is a vast network, and we’re always searching for smart networks that seem to have a high likelihood that they will be motivated and do benevolent deeds, and I think with the World Economic Forum we have found such a network. And for starters it’s going to help us saturate Central and South America.
What do you love most about your work?
The full engagement. It calls so much of me into action. There’s so much, from communications and organizing individuals and groups, to discovery, and the constant adventure and challenge. Also the never-ending rewards of impacting lives positively. We have an impact that is very measurable and obvious to us.
Having done a few of these trips with you, the one thing that always strikes me is the full immersion. So often when I travel I want to engage with the local people; I want to try to see the world from their perspective. The Waves For Water missions facilitate this in a big way.
They certainly do. If you go in with the right intentions, that’s a good place to penetrate. But you really need guidance, and you need locals to facilitate in some way. We rely on locals, and we’ve had great luck in those instances where people will bring you into the world where they are living at a very local and ground level. It’s an accelerated way to see a place, be welcomed by local people, and feel what it is like to be off the beaten path.
Do you have a favorite experience?
The list of great adventures is long. I’ve surfed the Pororoca wave in the Brazilian Amazon, got weapons training by the U.S. Army in North Eastern Afghanistan, been behind the curtain in North Korea, and drank enough ceremonial cava in Fiji to make an entire village woozy. But more than any experience, my favorite part of this work is the people. We get to see the best in people. I have good people, now good friends, all over the world.
What have you gleaned, what’s your overarching takeaway?
One thing that stands out to me is that moment of human connection. When you’re going somewhere and your intentions are good and somebody sees that and feels that — that is so real and it transcends a language or a culture or a geography. We get to constantly be in that, as you describe, that very openness of one human or a family welcoming another. And there’s this unspoken and sometimes spoken receptivity and connection, and it’s such a beautiful and strong thing. We all recognize that and have those sorts of moments in our lives, but with this work you’re going into foreign environments all the time — I’m averaging two different countries every month — and you’re going into these communities where you have this immediate receptivity and connection, and that has got to be a healthy human thing to experience.
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